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Hunger in Bangladesh not just physical

DHAKA, Bangladesh (BP)–“Tell me. I want to know the story of Jesus.”

After making cell phone calls, asking store owners for directions and riding rickshaws through downtown Dhaka, the two South Carolina volunteers knew their pilgrimage had been worth it when a Bengali Muslim spoke those words.

The 35-year-old man had requested an Injil (New Testament) and provided his name and approximate address. The two volunteers, accompanied by Bangladeshi believers, finally located his home. For an hour, they sat in his bathroom-sized apartment, pointing out verses for the man to read.

“Yes, I believe that very much,” the man responded as he read the Scriptures. “But before I join your community, I want to make absolutely sure. There is no turning back.”

The man’s receptivity to the Gospel surprised the visitors who were part of a three-member South Carolina team who traveled to the predominantly Muslim country to attempt food distribution to flood victims in the southern part of the capital city, Dhaka. The encouraging response also sustained the volunteers as they spent their days between waiting in vain for permission from authorities to open a distribution site -– an effort partly funded by the South Carolina Baptist Convention -– and trekking across the capital city to deliver Scripture.

“I had never had people this hungry for the Gospel before,” volunteer Daniel Rice* said. “Just knowing that of the millions of people, there are those just waiting to hear the Gospel -– that will drive you.”

Fellow volunteer Grant Ezell* had visited India two years ago after an e-mail from a friend prompted him: “How far would you go and what obstacles would you overcome to speak the name of Jesus to someone who has never heard it?”

That original calling came to bear on his second trip to southern Asia. Ezell and the two other volunteers had signed up to go backpacking in the region and distribute Scripture in mountain areas. After civil unrest there, their trip changed to training local Bengali believers and then adjusted again after the rising floodwaters prompted a food distribution effort to reach the starving, hurting people of the capital city.

Thousands of Bangladeshis were stranded by floodwaters that have killed more approximately 700 in Bangladesh and left thousands more without food, clean water or access to medical care for water-borne illnesses.

Beyond the edges of the flood-affected areas, brightly painted rickshaws still clatter through the streets and market vendors set up their wares. Poverty is a way of life for most living in the floodplains, but even in the more affluent part of the city, hungry children can be found.

The volunteers encountered a group of street children in need of clothes and food. They brought the children a loaf of bread that night and returned each day to talk with them, give them hugs of comfort, as well as either cookies, bananas or bread -– the best dollar Dewey Ogburn* said he has ever spent.

Touching the lives of south Asians is a commitment that’s been made by many Southern Baptists in South Carolina. Three years into a five-year partnership with the region, the South Carolina convention already has sent more than 500 volunteers into the region.

Beyond Bangladesh, Southern Baptists are praying that through short-term trips, South Carolinians will have a long-term impact on the region considered to have the greatest concentration of lostness on earth.

“It may be two months later, but they will ask, ‘Why did that person come? Why did they share that story with me?'” said Thad Crisler*, a Southern Baptist relief worker. “It opens doors to share the Gospel. Volunteers come and fill needs, they lay a foundation, they push doors open. Sometimes they get to share the Gospel outright.”
*Names changed for security reasons. Dea Davidson is a writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

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  • Dea Davidson